Wednesday 10 February 2021

Grammar isn't rocket science. In fact it isn't any kind of science

One of my points about 'grammar' as taught in primary schools is that it isn't a science with worldwide agreement on how to describe matter, life, nature , the universe etc. It's a field in which 'grammarians' dispute methods of describing languages. Their field is largely determined by the fact that the method they use is the language itself. It's a terminology that only uses what the grammarians perceive to be the structure of sentences. But this field is pre-decided by them. They claim that the parts and structures they describe exist but they only exist because they say they do. They have no other point of reference other than the language that they themselves have already described. This is self-referentialism gone crazy.

What gets called 'grammar' is  a schema, an attempt to find 'rules' or 'principles' in a language. The problem with it is that it's based entirely on a construct of language ripped from context and use. What would a 'grammar' of other human behaviours look like? Would they make sense ripped from context?  The 'evidence' for grammar is the grammar that the grammarian invents. It has no other point of reference. That's why it can't give us reasons for variation or change.

In fact, language is determined by a lot of other things other than itself. and even more things other than the sentence that the grammarian is looking at! This we can bundle together as 'context' ie the context of who is speaking/writing, who is listening/reading, who or what is the 'genre' of the utterance, and what else in the 'text' surrounds this sentence and why. These all affect how and why we choose what to say/write.

You'll see that this is a wider field of reference than sentence 'grammar' which claims to describe the 'rules' that determine what we say/write. So the long and short of it is that grammarians are locked in endless disputes over what is or is not x or y because they have no other point of reference other than that sentence itself. It really is a case of 'you can skin a rabbit in many ways'. Take one example. We say 'before breakfast' and 'before we had breakfast'. Some grammarians say that 'before' in these two examples are 'different parts of speech'. Other grammarians say that they're not! The point is that there is no means to 'prove' this. It's not that one is more right than the other. They are just alternative ways of describing things, using language itself as the sole field of reference.

This takes me to the farce of the 'fronted adverbial' - which by the way doesn't have to be 'adverbial' (!!!) I jest not. The laughable thing about this concept is that if you put 'fronted adverbial' into the search engines of the online Cambridge or Oxford Grammars - both highly regarded as the source of knowledge on these matters - you won't find 'fronted adverbial' as such. The Cambridge Grammar will respond like this:

"We cannot find any entries matching 'fronted adverbial'.
Please check you have typed the word correctly."

Neither of them recognise it as a term in itself. A classic case of grammarians not speaking the same language.